BOISE -- The latest out-of-town scammers appear to be in Boise right now, targeting the homeless, with a ploy that could cost everyone, according to the Boise Police Department.
In recent months, have told us about criminals coming from other states, staying in Idaho for maybe a week and getting as much cash as they can through retail fraud, check-cashing schemes, and now cell phone scams aimed at the homeless population.
Police: Scammers have been traveling the region
BPD homeless liaison and bicycle Officer Tom Shuler spent Monday warning people on the streets and talking to shelters about the latest scam.
Shuler says two or three scammers from California are targeting the homeless, looking for cell phones to sell for hundreds of dollars in other countries. They appear to be traveling around looking for victims.
"They just hit Salt Lake before this. They've been around the whole region," Shuler said.
To get the phones, the scammers pay homeless people to go into stores and sign up for multi-phone cell phone contracts. Then the scammers keep the phones, and they keep the service connected, which means bills keep going on the homeless person's account they aren't using.
Homeless people may end up with huge phone bills
A Boise homeless man who reported the scam to police went with a suspect to Walmart over the weekend.
"Once he left the store, had to give the phones back to the man, and then he made $100 cash, but now he's got three cell phones and a three cell phone contract on his credit," Shuler said.
So homeless people who might later apply for housing or a car loan could have big credit problems. Shuler says a woman did this last summer, and is now having problems because she has $5,000 worth of cell phone bills backed up.
"She's trying to get housing, and she thinks that's what's holding up her housing is she's got this horrible credit with these huge bills just from those cell phones she bought doing the same thing," Shuler said.
Boise homeless man: 'We're homeless, and yeah, we need the money'
James Allen told KTVB he was approached on Sunday and Monday by the scammers. He says he was offered $150 to make a phone deal with them.
"They pull up to you in their van, very slightly, and they ask you how would you like to make money off of selling used cell phones?" Allen said.
Allen says he was tempted: "I mean it's perfect, it's a good deal." But he said he decided it was too good to be true, so he didn't go with the men. After learning more about the scam, he says he's glad he stayed away.
Allen says he feels violated and hopes the police can catch the people who are preying on the homeless.
"I kinda feel violated and like there is someone out there who is just low and just a scum," Allen said. "What they did was wrong and they need to pay for it."
Shelters warning guests not to deal with the cell phone 'dealers'
Shelters, like Boise Rescue Mission River of Life Men's Shelter, are now warning guests with flyers, telling them not to deal with the men from out of town.
"We're placing flyers that explain what's going on, the situation, the cell phone scam, on every bed that's in our facility right now," Jacob Lang, River of Life Director, said.
Police say in addition to the homeless having problems, everyone is impacted when scams are in town, and they want the scammers gone soon.
"This isn't a zero sum game. These people are being taken advantage of, and we all lose with higher cell phone rates and everything. So we all lose in the big picture," Shuler said.
BPD ticketed one of the scammers Monday
Police did confront one of the men Monday and ticketed him for not having a license to solicit. Officers are working with prosecutors on possible charges for people that operate scams like this, but they say it might be something for the statehouse, as there aren't many laws this falls under.
According to the shelter warning flyers, the suspects are named Tony and Josh. They are from California, drive a newer-model white car and have a Utah phone number. The flyer also says the suspects may offer to purchase a person's current phone in exchange for them getting a new phone at a store on their own credit.